The Internet seems like a great source to most for finding medical information. It’s easy, quick, and free. What could be bad right? Hundreds of people turn to search engines and websites to look up possible answers to health questions they may have. “Indeed, studies have shown that, although 80% of American adults have searched for healthcare information online, 75% refrain from verifying key quality indicators such as source validity and source creation date” (White and Hortiz). Yes, the web may offer numerous ways to find facts about your health. However, millions of people in the world believe that they can rely on the information that they read on the Internet, in place of going to a doctor. This can lead to many negative factors including incorrect self-diagnosis and believing unreliable medical information. People should privilege face-to-face interactions rather than relying on information from online health sources.
Using the Internet for self-diagnosis, rather than seeking a professional can result in an incorrect diagnosis. People who misdiagnose themselves based upon information they found online can become very anxious due to the results they are given. Online medical websites can often give numerous results in response to inputting possible symptoms you may have. The results can range from a common illness to a rare disease. This can cause a lot of anxiety for some. This anxiety is referred to as Hypochondria. Merriam Webster defines Hypochondria as “an unusual or excessive concern about your health; a tendency to fear or imagine that you have an illness that you do not actually have.”
Hypochondria was a condition that was a lot more difficult to dabble into before the internet came about. However, thanks to the Internet, “becoming a hypochondriac is much easier than it used to be.” The ease of finding medical information has greatly increased with the rise of the Internet. Hypochondriacs “used to have to scour books and ask doctors for information. Now a universe of information is available with a few mouse clicks” (Webmd.com). A lot of people see the Internet as a useful tool, and it definitely can be. But for people such as Hypochondriacs, the Internet has turned from helpful tool to a weapon. Brian Fallon, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University says, “For hypochondriacs, the Internet has absolutely changed things for the worse.” Everything they need to know about their health to obsess over can be found within seconds. A study conducted by Ryen W. White and Eric Horvitz proves that “web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns.” Rather than using the Internet to help answer basic health related questions, Cyberchondriacs use it to feed their anxiety and continue to cause themselves unnecessary stress.
The rise of the Internet, has led to a new condition called Cyberchondria. Hypochondriacs are no longer relevant, as the Internet has bred a new generation. Cyberchondria is essentially Hypochondria, but with a twist. A proper definition of Cyberchondria is “the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology based on the review of search results and literature online” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Essentially, being a Cyberchondriac is constantly being in medical anxiety of having every illness or every disease in the book due to researching health information online. “For individuals with heightened levels of health anxiety, the information they find does not help to reduce their concerns” (Eastin). This is not only harmful because it contributes to unneeded stress, but most Cyberchondriacs incorrectly diagnose themselves which results in anxiety over an illness that they may not even have. This unneeded stress can really have a negative impact on their daily life, because they are allowing this stress to interfere with work and social aspects of their day (White and Horvitz).
Using health websites, such as Webmd, require the user to input their symptoms, and the site will give you results of possible illness and diseases you may have. The problem with this is the diagnosis that results from inputting basic symptoms into a website is very broad. The results could range from very mild illnesses such as a common cold, to having West Nile virus. It’s honestly terrifying, and it makes sense as to why so many people become Cyberchondriacs. This misdiagnosis and the stress that comes along with it can be prevented by visiting your physician instead of conducting a self-diagnosis.
The Internet isn’t personal, and can lead to misdiagnosis because websites will not give you proper results based on you specifically as a person. “While the Internet provides access to a large body of information it is a crude means of self-diagnosis as it fails to take age, gender, lifestyle and other subtleties into account” (McElroy and Shevlin). However, when visiting a doctor or specialist, you know that they are going to base their diagnosis off of your personal characteristics and genes. They aren’t going to give you a broad diagnosis that is given to anyone that inputs the same symptoms onto a website. The diagnosis you receive from a professional is going to be personally geared towards you, rather than being a generalized diagnosis. “As knowledgeable as we all now are, some conflicts are beyond the grasp of those of us without medical training” (theconversation.com). This can be hard for some to realize. Trying to self-diagnose yourself based off of things you see online isn’t accurate because you aren’t a professional and you don’t have the experience and knowledge that a doctor has to be able to determine what the symptoms you feel must be a result of.
For example, a friend of mine sprained her ankle last weekend and looked up pictures of sprained ankles online to compare to her ankle. She tried to determine if her ankle was sprained based off of pictures she found online on google images of sprained ankles. This could have led to a very incorrect self-diagnosis because there are hundreds of tiny bones in the foot and ankle, and there is was no way to know for sure if the ankle was sprained or broken without getting an actual x-ray. Luckily she realized this and decided to go to a doctor and he ran an x-ray. He told her she had fractured her ankle. Imagine if she would have just put a brace on her ankle thinking it was just a sprain and continued to walk on it unknowing that it was broken. That could have led to even more damage to her injury. Diagnosing yourself is never a replacement for visiting an actual doctor.
Face to face interactions should be privileged because doctors can run tests and have actual scientific evidence to explain and prove to you why you may have a certain illness or injury. They are also experienced and have a medical degree and can be sure of their diagnosis because they can back it up with medical evidence (Gafni). Where as when you are comparing an injury to an image found online, you do not have actual proof that that is how all injuries of that type may look. An in person consultation with a professional will always be the safer and more trusted option, rather than relying on your own inexperienced opinion based off of something you may have read or saw online.